The Peaceable Kingdom?
by Rev. Joseph Connolly
“The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, / the lion shall eat straw like the ox; / but the serpent— its food shall be dust! / They shall not hurt or destroy / on all my holy mountain,…” — Isaiah 65:25
Some of us were alive fifty years ago this coming Friday and some of us were not. And a little like that more recent tragedy— 9/11— one of the questions always posed to those who experienced that date fifty years ago— 11/22/1963— one of the questions posed is often the same as it is for 9/11.
Where were you when you heard the news? Of course, in the case of 1963 the question is: ‘where were you when you heard that the President, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, had been killed?’
As the years have passed, however, another and very different question about what happened back then has weighed on the American psyche. And the question is valid whether or not you were alive on that date. In short, this question even resonates with people who did not experience the event.
The question? Was there some kind of conspiracy afoot to brazenly and brutally assassinate the President? Put another way, was more than one person involved in this murder? Or was this killing simply the demented work of a single individual who was acting alone? (Slight pause.)
Movies have been made asking this question. Movies have even been made supplying answers to this question. Countless books have been written on the topic. One estimate I saw said there are 2,000 books rehashing various conspiracy theories as they ask over and over ‘was there more than one person was involved?’
According to a 2003 ABC News Poll, 70 percent of Americans believe Kennedy’s death was the result of a plot and not the act of a lone killer. Fifty-one percent believe that even if only one person did pull the trigger, there was some kind of support system for the perpetrator. 7 percent of those polled actually believe the person who the Warren Commission declared to be the sole actor in this crime was not even involved.
The same poll said there are five top assassination conspiracy theories. They are— in no particular order— first, the Soviets did it. After all, Khrushchev snubbed Kennedy when they first met and then Kennedy bested Khrushchev when the Soviet Premier was forced to back down over the Cuban Missile Crisis. (Slight pause.)
Next— the Mafia did it. In fact, the CIA— the Central Intelligence Agency— had contacts with organized crime about assassinating Fidel Castro. The mob was heavily invested in casinos in Havana. And then Kennedy botched the Bay of Pigs invasion. That ended any hopes they had of returning to those casinos . Further, the mob did not like Kennedy’s crusading brother, Attorney General, Robert Kennedy. So, maybe the Mafia did do it. (Slight pause.)
No— the Cubans probably did it. U.S. agents did try to assassinate Castro, says this thesis and Castro decided to return the favor. In fact, in 1968 Lyndon Johnson told ABC News (and this is a quote— quote): “Kennedy was trying to get to Castro but Castro got to him first.” (Slight pause.)
I heard this next one a lot when I was young. Lyndon Johnson did it. Who had the most to gain? The one who became president. The gist of this conspiracy tale says Johnson received help from the CIA and from wealthy tycoons who believed they would have access to more profit under a Johnson administration.
There is actually a variation on this one which says that Johnson was aided by another man who would become president— George H. W. Bush. Bush was then a rising star in the CIA and also happened to be in Dallas on the day of the assassination.
That segues into the last theory in the top five. The CIA did it. They are, of course, an easy scapegoat. Indeed, one variation suggests the assassin, the one the Warren Commission says acted alone, was a CIA operative. (Slight pause.)
Well, despite all the theories about the assassination, there is one possibility for the very existence of the theories which I personally have never heard anyone else say. Therefore, I suppose you could label this as my conspiracy theory. And what is my conspiracy theory?
My conspiracy theory says that all these theories have nothing at all to do with what happened on November the 22nd, 1963. Indeed, my conspiracy theory says there is a simple reason all the rest of those conspiracy theories even exist.
My conspiracy theory says the only thing the very existence of conspiracy theories proves is… people do not trust the government. And, since the official government report says there was a single assassin and no conspiracy, that conclusion must be wrong, since it’s the official position of the government— a government which cannot be trusted. (Slight pause.)
CBS anchor Bob Schieffer was a local reporter in Dallas in 1963. That day is still with him. In some ways his take is similar to mine. He recently described 11/22/1963 and the several days after the assassination on the program he now moderates, Face the Nation. He said (quote:) “It was the weekend America lost its innocence.” (Slight pause.)
These words are from the Scroll of the Prophet Isaiah: “The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, / the lion shall eat straw like the ox; / but the serpent— its food shall be dust! / They shall not hurt or destroy / on all my holy mountain,…” (Slight pause.)
When the passage from Isaiah was introduced this was said (quote): “…the entire work known as Isaiah involves waiting. Waiting for God inevitably and invariably involves faith and trust.” (Slight pause.)
This passage describes a state of peace which seems quite unattainable— a wolf and the lamb together, a lion who eats straw. And then there is that promise of what we think of as a peace like existence: they shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain. (Slight pause.)
I want to suggest that we cannot get to a place where we experience the peace of God unless we trust God. But I think an initial question needs to be asked, a question which might allow us to get to that place of trust: what is the peace of God? (Slight pause.)
From a Biblical perspective, the peace of God is not the absence of violence. The peace of God is the presence of the Spirit of God.
Hence, the peaceable kingdom we all claim to seek is not necessary one where violence is banished. We find peace— real peace— when we trust that the presence of God is with us and that the presence of God is real, no matter what the circumstance.
Trust in God is, you see, the key to being aware of the presence of God. And that being aware of the presence of God leads us to an inner peace. (Slight pause.)
There is a quote attributed to one Claude AnShin Thomas which has recently been floating around the internet. Postings of this quote say Thomas is War Veteran and Buddhist Monk. Is he? I don’t know. It does not matter. I think these words are relevant. (Slight pause.)
(Quote:) “Peace is not an idea. Peace is not a political movement, not a theory or a dogma. Peace is a way of life: living mindfully in the presence moment. It is not a question of politics but of actions. It is not a matter of improving a political system or taking care of homeless people.”
“These are valuable but will not, alone, end war and suffering. We must stop the endless wars which rage within. Imagine, if everyone stopped the war within themselves. There would be no seeds from which war could grow.” (Slight pause.)
In some ways that’s about our inner psychological states, is it not? That helps toward trust, does it not? You see, I believe that, when we begin to trust God, we will find inner wars less invasive. We will find that begets love and love begets peace.
And I think trusting God is the very thing Isaiah addresses in this passage. When we trust God we are empowered to love. When we are empowered to love, the peace of God— the real presence of God— becomes tangible. Amen.
United Church of Christ, First Congregational, Norwich, New York
ENDPIECE— It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Congregational Response and Benediction. This is an précis of what was said: “Randy Glasbergen is a nationally syndicated Cartoonist who happens live in Sherburne, just a couple miles down the road. And he is very funny. Or at least he is someone who says things funny, rather than saying funny things. He just published a cartoon which says this: ‘What really happened to the Thanksgiving turkey’ And under that caption are a couple of turkeys in discussion about what really happened: ‘Some say the CIA killed the turkey… others think it was the mob… conspiracy theorists think there was more than one ax swung from multiple positions by people on the grassy knoll.’ Perhaps conspiracy is where you look for it. And perhaps we are unaware of the peace of God, the presence of God because we fail to seek to do the work of God and the will of God.”
BENEDICTION: A kind and just God sends us out into the world as bearers of truth which surpasses our understanding. God watches over those who respond in love. So, let us love God so much, that we love nothing else too much. Let us be so in awe of God that we are in awe of no one else and nothing else. Amen.